Earlier this week, I had the privilege of touring the southern part of Vermont with US Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan.
On Monday, we went from farm to farm along the Route 9 corridor and met with some of the incredibly courageous farm families who are putting their lives back together after Tropical Storm Irene. Loss of land, loss of crops and feed are just a few of the many challenges they are facing with amazing dignity. The purpose of the tour spearheaded by State Ag Secretary, Chuck Ross, was to make sure that those in need were aware of all of the programs USDA and the State had to offer. In addition, he wanted our Washington visitor to see the stunning resilience of Vermont’s farm families. A group that included Bob Paquin, FSA; Vicky Drew, NRCS; staff of Sen. Leahy and Sanders and Congressman Welch also shared their admiration for the strength of these individuals.
Tuesday, on another beautiful fall day, we gathered at the Brattleboro Food Coop in downtown Brattleboro. The Coop sells the products of hundreds of local farms and and local food producers. This is the market for the products of some of the farms that were affected by Irene. This is the market that is going to work with our farmers as they recover from the storm. The members of the Coop have shoveled the mud off fields, pulled the sheetrock off walls and raised money for the farm disaster fund through local charity events. They are some of the strongest supporters of local agriculture in our state.
As we toured the store with General Manager, Alex Gyori, he pointed out all of the “local” signs that framed the produce bins. Even the bulk granola and bulk liquid bins featured local vendors. The produce manager, who has been with the Coop 16 years, stated that at this time of year about 60% of the produce sold is from local contributors. Alex chimed in that 20% of the Coop’s gross revenue is tied to the local market – amazing!
The construction of the new coop along with the affordable housing that will occupy the top two floors of the building are a tribute to the creative spirit of this community and its commitment to sustainable development and sustainable agriculture. Thanks to USDA’s B&I Guarantee of $4.2 million for the Coop and an earmark from Sen. Leahy for the housing portion, the people of this community will have yet another reason to celebrate this great region and this great downtown for decades to come.